2008 CPEO Brownfields List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lennysiegel@gmail.com>
Date: Tue, 6 May 2008 07:33:35 -0700 (PDT)
Reply: cpeo-brownfields
Subject: [CPEO-BIF] New York City school leasing "loophole"

May 6, 2008
Release #: 017-2008

PA Gotbaum: Legal Loophole Keeps Parents in the Dark on Environmental Cleanup of Schools There must be a public review process and Council oversight for leased school sites

MANHATTAN – Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum released a new report detailing a loophole in the Public Authorities Law (PAL) which allows the School Construction Authority (SCA) to open schools on potentially toxic sites that could pose a health threat for New York City schoolchildren. The loophole allows the SCA to lease sites for new schools without community notification, environmental review, or City Council oversight.

The Public Advocate's report focuses on schools housed in existing buildings leased by the SCA. Some school sites have been found to be contaminated with toxins such as perchloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), and lead. All of the schools discussed in the report have been deemed safe for occupancy by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. However, the communities involved were not properly notified or consulted about the environmental conditions. In the short term, exposure to these toxins can cause conditions like dizziness or loss of concentration. In the long term, many of them are known or presumed to have carcinogenic effects.

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum said, "When it comes to our children's health, we can't afford to make poor choices. Choosing a location for a school is a decision that has a lasting impact, and right now, when the SCA leases property, parents don't have a say in the process and the City Council is shut out. State law must be amended to require a public process and environmental review of leased school sites."

When SCA builds a new school on property it owns, state law requires that it submit a site plan to the community board and the Council, give the Council the opportunity to vote on the plan, and conduct a public environmental review. However, because of the loophole in the law, when a new school is being created on a leased site, these requirements do not apply. Even when there are known toxins present, there may be no public environmental review of the site, no opportunity for public feedback and no Council oversight.

The Office of the Public Advocate recommends:

-Amending the PAL to require public notice and Council oversight for leased properties: Assembly Bill 8838 closes the PAL leasing loophole. The Public Advocate recommends that the State Senate pass Bill 7127, which amends the Public Authorities Law to include the leasing of any building or property, and send the legislation to the governor for his signature.

-Subjecting SCA leasing of existing facilities to the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA): Whether the SCA leases an existing facility or constructs a new building, it should follow the rules of SEQRA by conducting a public environmental review.

-Providing more environmental information about schools: The DOE should create a public repository available on-line that lists all schools on contaminated properties - especially those it leases because these sites currently are not subject to any public review.

-Providing communities with means for independent review: Having an outside consultant review the city's environmental testing results and remediation plans is a relatively inexpensive way to reassure parents and make conditions safer for children.


To download the full report, go to


Lenny Siegel
Executive Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
a project of the Pacific Studies Center
278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/961-8918

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